Technology evolution or revolution?

Snow industry vet John Allin analyzes recent equipment advances and sizes up whether they’ve made the essential tasks any easier.

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Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two part story on technology. Part 1 left off discussing snow pushers and how they have changed throughout the years.  You can read part 1 by visiting

Snow pushers provide a competitive edge when quoting against someone with inefficient equipment. Everyone has to figure up the time it takes to clear a particular lot. If they figure this using only plows on trucks it takes a set amount of time to clear the entire lot.

If they refigure the time including a payloader and 16-foot-snow pusher, the total amount of time required to complete the operation may be cut as much as 50 percent. Even allowing for a higher hourly expenditure for the payloader, the total cost to clear the lot is often reduced dramatically. If the contractor is figuring a “cost plus margin” price to the customer, their price drops thus supplying a competitive advantage. Many times, though, the price advantage to the customer results in increased profit for the contractor.

Add to this the relatively recent advancement in snow pusher technology so as to allow “sections” of the pusher to move vertically to configure to the imperfections of the parking lot and you have some very, very productive equipment to select from to increase efficiencies. The “sectional pusher” or “sectional plow” comes with a steel cutting edge that scrapes closer to the pavement than the traditional rubber cutting edges used on standard snow pushers.

This means the snow contractor can also reduce the amount of deicing material necessary to obtain “bare and wet” pavement on parking lots. Some pushers offer side panels that move 180 degrees to allow for changeability from pusher box to large plow. Wing plows for payloaders give versatility to the old straight plows that were modified for use on such loaders. As plowing contractors became more inventive and manufacturers started to pay attention to the needs of the industry – advances were bound to happen.

Additionally, loader owners and site managers can get more use of their equipment in winter, and snowplowers have a new source of equipment to use on commercial, retail and industrial sites.

A push to buy.
Contractors and municipalities around the country are purchasing snow pushers in record numbers and hiring loaders and operators to move large quantities of snow off such sites. Contractors own the pushers or sectionals and hire in the equipment to use in conjunction with these units. This frees up plow trucks to service smaller and usually higher-margin properties.

Site managers who have the equipment can increase productivity dramatically by adding snow pushers to their arsenal of available equipment. Pushers are not expensive and can be easily justified for budget purposes. Additionally, “for profit” snow contractors are finding that they are increasing margins (on per push and seasonal accounts) simply because they are increasing efficiency on these larger sites. One caveat is that plowing roadways is still done the old fashioned way – and probably will be done this way for the foreseeable future.

Snow pushers are also becoming popular for sidewalk snow removal. These can be purchased for skid-steers and smaller loaders, too. They come in as small a width as 5 feet, which is ideal for a lot of retail center walks. Moving massive quantities of snow with one operator has cut sidewalk snow removal times by as much as two thirds.

Ease the pain.
With the decreased labor market in recent years, mechanizing sidewalk snow removal operations have become quite attractive to snow contractors everywhere. Laborers are still needed even with the new technology, however there are some new developments to make it easier on the backs of laborers. Power walk-behind brooms speed up production in lighter snows. New developments for hand pushers have made life easier for laborers, too. Hand pushers of plastic, curved to allow for ease of moving snow along with walk-behind, two-wheeled pushers mean far less bending over and straining back muscles.

Polyurethane cutting edges have increased productivity too. Steel cutting edges wear – and quickly. All those sparks you see when running down the road with the plow down means that the steel is coming apart from the grinding that takes place when steel meets pavement. Polyurethane doesn’t tear like rubber and is considerably more “stiff” thus allowing for some cutting action on the pavement surface. Polyurethane slides but is durable enough to have some cutting action too. And the squeegee effect of polyurethane also limits the need for increased chemical application to achieve bare pavement results from our efforts.

Even though initially more expensive than steel, polyurethane is becoming increasingly more popular with plowing operators everywhere because it lasts up to four-times longer than a steel cutting edge. Combine the productivity of snow pushers with the advanced technology in polyurethane cutting edges and you will be more environmentally friendly, more efficient in your methodology and probably increase margins significantly when pricing properly.

V-blades can give snow contractors increased efficiency.

“V”ery important plows.
Snowplows themselves have advanced over the past decade too. All the major manufacturers now offer V-plows. V-blades increase efficiencies as much as 50 percent over old-fashioned straight blades. Expandable plows, or wide-outs, increase efficiency over the old straight plows considerably. These units have hydraulically expandable wings that automatically tilt forward allowing for unique versatility over the straight blade. These, too, are now manufactured by all the major manufactures and are available all over the U.S. and Canada. However, some folks would like to think that with all the technological advances of the recent years we should be able to find a better way to move snow in winter months – possibly by doing it all chemically, or electronically, or even metaphysically.

Unfortunately, in this instance it appears that the old fashioned way is still the best way – with some slight productivity increases that come with the use of snow pushers and advances in plow design and function.

Also, chemicals can’t do everything. And often using more chemicals than less is not very friendly to our environment. Even with these advances in equipment technology and performance, running a poor business will outweigh the benefits of these advances.

Therefore, in addition to the emergence of more productive equipment contractors must also strive to be better educated businessmen, too. L&L

John Allin is a snow veteran, educator and industry consultant based in Erie, Pa., as well as a columnist and frequent contributor to Snow Magazine.

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